Marching in Lockstep Down the Party Line

September 16, 2015

The debate around the agreement between the United States, its allies, and Iran to curtail the Iranian nuclear weapons program has illustrated a disturbing, partisan trend in American politics today. Since President Obama first announced the agreement, we have seen Republicans in Congress declare their opposition to it in lock step, with not a single dissenting vote. The same is true with other significant policy issues. For example, with theAffordable Care Act, or Obamacare, not a single Republican voted in favor of the legislation despite the fact that change to our nation’s health care system was badly needed and long overdue. When was the last time a Republican proposed any kind of tax for infrastructure, education, or research? What about climate change? Republicans are walking in lock step on issues that defy common sense and constitute significant problems and threats to our country. It’s true that the Democratic Party usually moves together on most issues, but not like this. Recent Republican behavior is extraordinary. An organization as large and diverse as the national Republican Party should have some delegates in Washington that do not believe or obey the party orthodoxy on issues of such importance.

The problem

So what is causing this lock step mentality within the Republican Party? There are undoubtedly a number of causes, but one cause sticks out above all others: the way campaigns are financed. Citizens United and other recent Supreme Court decisions have broke down limits on campaign financing and have produced a situation in which a few people are dominating campaign funding. We can clearly see how this enables candidates to raise unlimited amounts of money. For example, presidential candidate Jeb Bush reported raised $120 million in the last quarter, from a few wealthy donors. Large donors have created campaign funding organizations that spend heavily in Congressional elections. Anyone running for a Congress must pay attention to Super PACs and 501(c)(4) organizations that can funnel dark money into campaigns and from which individual donors are difficult or impossible to identify. This dark money poses a threat to Republican incumbents: If he or she steps out of the Republican orthodoxy, they will face a well-financed Republican primary opponent. Any of the issues mentioned above, such as the Iran non-treaty, taxes, health care reform, or climate change have groups that watch the statements and votes of Republicans and are quick to punish any violators. These punishments have been quick and effective. The problem is self-reinforcing. Officials elected with big money enact policies that further widen the wealth inequality and further enable lopsided campaign funding.

The solution

The solution is to amend the Constitution of this great country to impose meaningful limits on campaign money. That’s why I proposed a Constitutional Amendment, H.J.Res. 31, to eliminate SuperPACs, PACs, and dark money contributions. Constitutional amendments are very difficult to enact, and this is as it should be. But it’s high time to fix the way campaigns are funded in this country. If you feel anger about the dysfunction in Washington, put your energy into bringing about the type of change that will truly make a difference.  Organize to amend the Constitution to curtail campaign money. It won’t solve all our nation’s problems, but it will allow us to start managing the great challenges of our time.